“It’s one of his rare films where so many of the popular themes from his other movies are all brought into one,” says Mary Stone, Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter, about the enduring appeal of his film To Catch a Thief. “You have Grace Kelly as the cool blonde; you have Cary Grant as the innocent man who is wronged; you have the conversations over food; you have the subtleties; you have the glamour; and you have the mother.”
Indeed, many of Hitchcock’s most recognizable cinematic devices appear in this lush, romantic thriller, memorably set in the south of France. Once-notorious jewel thief John Robie (Cary Grant), a.k.a. The Cat, has retired and is living quietly in the hills above Cannes. After several wealthy matrons vacationing at nearby hotels wake to find their priceless jewels missing, Robie is immediately considered a suspect in the crimes, and reluctantly agrees to help the local authorities with their investigation; working undercover at the hotels, he socializes with other potential victims, intending to snare the sly thief who’s trying to frame him.
When Robie pegs a garrulous American widow, Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis), as the thief‘s next victim, he is not quite ready to be pegged as The Cat by her beautiful daughter, Francine (Grace Kelly). Having studied Robie’s background, Francine knows who he is and believes he’s the current thief. She wants in on his game, hoping he’ll show her the tricks of his trade by making her a partner in crime. Robie does his best to convince her that he’s innocent, but he can’t resist the attention, and the two fall in love amid the raised eyebrows of the authorities and the wealthy jet set.
When Hitchcock chose this project, he called upon many of his frequent collaborators, including Grant, Kelly, screenwriter John Michael Hayes, and cinematographer Robert Burks, ASC. Hitchcock first teamed with Burks on Strangers on a Train (1951), and the cinematographer shot 11 subsequent pictures for him. For To Catch a Thief, the filmmakers decided to use a new motion-picture process, VistaVision. The expensive, high-clarity process proved to be the perfect choice for photographing the French Riviera, where all exteriors were shot. Balancing the glowing light of the sunny locale on Edith Head’s stylish costumes and art directors Joseph MacMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira’s lavish sets allowed Burks to use one of his most accomplished and sophisticated color schemes. The softer hues of blue, yellow and coral pink are offset by the vivid natural color of the location. Burks’ work on the film deservedly won an Academy Award.
To Catch a Thief was recently reissued by Paramount Home Entertainment in a special collector’s edition, and although the studio’s 2002 DVD of the film was strong, this edition is a more concentrated effort. The picture transfer has been upgraded significantly; the 2002 version was anamorphically enhanced with solid color, but this new transfer is superior, looking more “film-like.” The image is smoother and free of some of the surface dirt that was visible on the 2002 pressing. This transfer also sports slightly better contrast and is even richer in color and detail.
The 2002 DVD provided a good monaural mix that has been replicated on this release, and the studio has added the option of a Dolby 2.0 stereo mix, which gives the score and sound effects a richer tone without ever feeling artificial, like many such upgrades of monaural soundtracks do.
The supplements borrowed from the 2002 release comprise 33 minutes of interview footage with Hitchcock’s family members, production manager Doc Erickson, continuity assistant Sylvette Baudrot, and others; the film’s theatrical trailer; and the 16-minute featurette “Edith Head: The Paramount Years.” This disc’s only new supplement is a rather dubious audio commentary by DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau, who seems ready with facts but quickly takes a back seat to filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who spends most of the time name-dropping, offering trite anecdotal information, and doing impressions of Hitchcock, Grant, Orson Welles and John Ford.
Despite the rather disappointing commentary track, this DVD is a marked improvement over the previous one. Showcasing the skills of one of the cinema’s most celebrated directors, To Catch a Thief offers frothy, romantic entertainment, and Grant and Kelly’s combustive star power sets off significant fireworks.